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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Biblical Paintings by Anthony van Dyck

Samson and Delilah by Anthony van Dyck

Samson and Delilah by Anthony van Dyck

“Samson and Delilah” by Anthony van Dyck depicts the scene after Delila has caused Samson to lose his extraordinary power. Delila had discovered that Samson’s strength was derived by his long hair which she cut off while he was sleeping. Without his long hair, his mortal enemy, the Philistines were able to capture him.

This painting was inspired by the episode from the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was a Hebrew hero of the ancient Israelites. He had been granted immense strength to aid him against his enemies and which allow him to perform superhuman feats, including defeating an army of Philistines. However, if Samson’s long hair were cut, then his vow would be violated, and he would lose his strength. Unfortunately, he fell in love with Delilah, who betrayed his trust.

Van Dyck was aware of a composition on the same subject by Peter Paul Rubens, his teacher, and role model. Van Dyck, however, creates a different interpretation, he shows Delilah’s dismay at betraying her lover and her grief over her loss. Delilah had been bribed by the Philistines, to learn Samson’s secret of his great strength. However, she now seems to regret her treacherous act, or at least she is painfully moved by its dramatic consequence.

Samson

His lover Delilah betrayed Samson. She ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping. She then turned him over to his Philistine enemies. His enemies gouged out his eyes and forced him to grind grain in a mill at Gaza.

After a long period in chains, the Philistines took Samson into their temple of Dagon. They made fun of him, but during their taunting, he was allowed to rest for a short time against one of the support pillars. Samson sensed his opportunity and prayed to God. He miraculously recovered his strength, allowing him to grasp hold of the columns. Samson managed to tear down te support columns, killing himself and all the Philistines with him.

Delilah

Delilah was bribed by the Philistines to discover the source of Sampson’s strength. After three failed attempts, she finally seduces Samson into telling her the secret of his power. He revealed that his power came from an oath to God to never cut his hair. As he sleeps, Delilah orders a servant to cut Samson’s hair, thereby enabling her to turn him over to the Philistines. Her name has become associated with treacherous and voluptuous women.

Samson and Delilah

  • Title:               Samson and Delilah
  • Artist:             Anthony van Dyck
  • Year:               1628 – 1630
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   Height: 1,460 mm (57.48 ″); Width: 2,540 mm (100 ″)
  • Museum:        Kunsthistorisches Museum

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Christ Crowned with Thorns by Anthony van Dyck

Christ Crowned with Thorns by Anthony van Dyck

“Christ Crowned with Thorns” by Anthony van Dyck depicts Christ surrounded by figures who are mocking him. An armed soldier is placing the Crown of Thorns on his head. The executioner is pulling his hair, and another offers him a cane as his scepter. Two other figures watch the scene through a window.

Van Dyck started this painting aged 20 during his first Antwerp period when he was the leading studio assistant and pupil of Peter Paul Rubens. It shows Rubens’ influence in its chiaroscuro and realistic portrayal of musculature. However, van Dyck seems to have made significant changes early during his stay in Italy, showing the influence of Titian and other Venetian painters in Jesus’ face.

For the Art historians, infrared reflectography and x-rays have made it possible to determine the changes in the scene as Van Dyck experimented and modified the composition in successive stages. The work was painted in various stages, and the dog and men at the window are later additions to the initial layout. Even with the naked eye and magnification, a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer of paint on a canvas can be seen as in the example of a painted-over foot with toes, that can be seen between Christ foot and the dog.

Christ Crowned with Thorns

  • Title:                 Christ Crowned with Thorns
  • Artist:               Anthony van Dyck
  • Year:                 1620
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    223 × 196 cm (87.7 × 77.1 ″)
  • Museum:          Prado Museum

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The Rest on The Flight into Egypt by Anthony van Dyck

The Rest on The Flight into Egypt by Anthony van Dyck

“The Rest on The Flight into Egypt” by Anthony van Dyck depicts the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus resting during their flight into Egypt. The Holy Family is resting, and the focus of the composition is on the seated Virgin Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child, enthroned in front of a deep forest landscape background. The theme of the “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” was a popular subject in art, and a layperson commissioned this painting for personal devotion.

The Flight into Egypt derives from the Gospel of Matthew, though it does not mention a rest, which derives from apocryphal accounts. It was a popular theme for painters in many periods. The subject did not develop until the second half of the fourteenth century. It evolved based on the long-standing traditions of incidents that embellished the story of the Flight into Egypt. The New Testament merely states that it happened, without giving any details.

Christ Crowned with Thorns

  • Title:                 Christ Crowned with Thorns
  • Artist:               Anthony van Dyck
  • Year:                 1630
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:     Height: 135 cm (53.1 ″); Width: 115 cm (45.2 ″)
  • Museum:           Alte Pinakothek

Anthony van Dyck

Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641) was a Flemish artist who became the leading court painter in England after success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy. Van Dyck started painting from an early age. He gained early success as a painter, becoming a master in the Antwerp guild in 1618. He worked in the studio of Peter Paul Rubens, who became a major influence on his work.

Van Dyck worked in London for some months in 1621, then returned to Flanders for a brief time, before traveling to Italy, where he stayed until 1627. He spent five years after his return from Italy in Flanders, and from 1630 was court painter for Archduchess Isabella, Habsburg Governor of Flanders. In 1632 he returned to London to be the principal court painter, at the request of Charles I of England.

He is best known for his portraits of European aristocracy, most notably Charles I and his family and associates. He also painted mythological and biblical subjects. He also painted altarpieces and was an important innovator in watercolor and etching. Charles I, granted him a knighthood, and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Anthony van Dyck

Reflections

  • Van Dyck became the dominant influence on English portrait-painting in the 1600s and 1700s.

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“A picture is a poem without words.”
– Horace

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Photo Credit: 1) Anthony van Dyck [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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